I'm reading Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scriptures and the Faiths We Never Knew. I found something that Ehrman said on pages 125-126 to be intriguing:
Christian Gnostics maintained that there were three kinds of humans.
Some are creations of the Demiurge, pure and simple. Like other
animals, they have no spirit within; like them, when they die, their
entire existence is annihilated. Other people have a soul within, but
not a spark of the divine spirit. Such people have an opportunity for
an afterlife, if they have faith and do good deeds. These in fact are
regular Christians, those who believe in Christ but do not have the full
understanding of the secret knowledge that leads to ultimate
salvation. The third group of people have this knowledge. They are the
Gnostics, those 'in the know,' who have within them a spark of the
divine, who have learned who they really are, how they got here, and how
they can return. These people will have a fantastic
afterlife, in that they will return to the Divine realm from which they
came and live eternally in the presence of God as part of the Pleroma."
understanding of Gnosticism is that it believed that there were human
beings who had a divine spark within them and were in captivity within
their fleshly bodies, not to mention the material world, which was
created by a (not particularly good) sub-deity. Gnosticism's aim was to
enlighten people about this. My understanding had lacunae, however.
Specifically, I wondered if people's divine sparks would go to heaven
after death if those people had been unaware of the inferiority of the
material world and the divine spark within them. In short, was going to
heaven after death automatic, according to Gnosticism, or did one have
to achieve enlightenment before one could go to heaven?
In my rambling post here,
I talked about Birger Pearson's discussion of the Gnostic Apocryphon of
John, which (according to Pearson) posited three types of people. The
first type were the perfect, the ones who had the Spirit of life. They
were saved. The second type were those who were ignorant about to whom
they belonged, and they would be given another chance to acquire
enlightenment in another incarnation. The third type had knowledge but
turned away from it, and they would undergo eternal punishment. In this
scenario, one needed to be enlightened in order to be saved.
however, paints a different picture, which also contains three types of
people. The first type, which encompasses a large number, are those
who lack the divine spirit within them. They were created by the
sub-deity who made the material world, and their outcome is simply
annihilation. The second type lack a divine spark, yet they have a
soul. Still, they can be saved by believing in Jesus and doing good
deeds. The third type are those who have the divine spark and who know
about it, and they will be saved.
Perhaps there were different
Gnostics who believed in different things. Or maybe these two pictures
can be harmonized, on some level. One could say (perhaps) that the
Apocryphon of John is providing more nuance about the third category
that Ehrman discusses: those who have the divine spark within them.
Within that third category would be those who know who they are, those
who never find out within this lifetime and thus need another chance to
find out, and those who had knowledge but turned away from it.